The starting rotation is pitching great, the Bullpen Mafia is replicating the success of 2011, and the young studs in the Indians lineup look like stars in the making. To top it all off, the Indians find themselves atop the AL Central in the middle of May for the second straight year. Things couldn’t possibly be going any better right now.
Or could they? Take a look at the current MLB attendance figures and there is clear cause for concern. To put it bluntly, the Indians’ attendance numbers suck. The Avengers could be occupying the first six spots in the lineup while Kate Upton dances on the dugouts in between innings and people would still find an excuse not to show up at Progressive Field. Despite the hot start and all the talk of what the 2012 season may hold, the Indians are once again struggling to lure fans down to the ballpark. For the second straight year, attendance woes are threatening to derail an otherwise successful start to a season.
If you recall, the Indians got off to a great start in 2011, hung around in the AL Central race for the majority of the season and somehow still managed to finish 24th overall in home attendance. Cleveland averaged 22,726 per game, roughly 53 percent of Progressive Field’s capacity. Some of that can be attributed to the fact that expectations were so low early on that the increased attendance figures from July, August, and September were unable to make up for April, May, and June, but even so it was disappointing.
But, this year was supposed to be different. Coming off of a successful 2011 season with a team primed to compete once again for a division title and playoff birth, it’s only natural that attendance should continue on an upward slope. When people are excited, they show up to the ballpark. It’s a fact of life and a historical precedent that has been established in years past with the Indians. But that’s not the case in Cleveland. At least not yet.
Entering Tuesday, the Indians were dead last in attendance with an average of 14,291 per game. That’s a third of Progressive Field’s capacity. It also put them more than 5,00 behind the next closest team, the Chicago White Sox, who have averaged 19,573 per game thus far. To make matters worse, these figures actually dropped last week—the minuscule crowds in attendance to watch the Indians take on the White Sox have pushed the average attendance way down.
To put this into proper perspective, the Phillies lead the majors in attendance with an average of 44,999 per game or 103 percent of Citizens Bank Park’s capacity. That’s right, the Phillies are filling their stadium over the listed maximum. Rounding out the top five are the Rangers (43,448), Cardinals (42,118), Giants (41,527), and Yankees (40,710). And don’t be fooled into thinking that only the “big market” teams in contention on a yearly basis are making the Indians’ attendance figures look bad. The league average is around 30,000 per game. The Twins are averaging 33,000-plus despite their awful start and the Brewers upwards of 35,000.
So what gives? Why are Clevelanders avoiding the Indians like the plague? How can a community that has long thought of itself as one of the best sports cities in America turn in such pathetic attendance figures? After all, this is the same fan base that once sold out the very same stadium for 455 straight games. Here are the reasons I’ve been able to gather from watching, reading, and talking with other Tribe fans: